Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Part 1 Analysis of "The Girls Next Door"

The purpose of this article is to analyze the concepts of femininity and masculinity as found in popular media and advertising through “The Girls Next Door” Reality TV show.

At first glance “The Girls Next Door” appears to define hegemonic definitions of femininity and masculinity through the portrayal of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and his three blonde, busty girlfriends in which the show is centered around. However, a closer look at the roles played by Holly, Bridget, and Kendra in Hugh’s elaborate life reveals various elements of popular culture and its representation of gender.

In the opening of “The Girls Next Door” each girlfriend is briefly introduced individually with their head on a cartoon character, dancing around and smiling, doing something that offers an insight to their interests. For example, Bridget, the “educated girlfriend”, is surrounded by books, is wearing thick black glasses, has on a graduation hat and is holding a diploma. Bridget has a masters in communication and is therefore depicted as the nerd of the trio. Holly, Hef’s main girlfriend, is shown wearing a cheerleading uniform, and flailing her pom-poms all over the screen. Kendra, the sporty girlfriend and self proclaimed tom boy is shown in a softball uniform with her hair in a bouncy ponytail.

The girls are portrayed as having varied interests and personalities but they all represent the normative definition of beauty represented in the media and are all attempting to attain fame and fortune. Their bleach blonde hair, skinny figures, and large (most likely silicon) breasts represent the ideal feminine subject. This ultimate model of femininity advertises the need for young girls to recreate their bodies to be socially accepted and appealing in today’s materialistic society. “Advertising is one of the most potent messengers in a culture that can be toxic for girl’s self-esteem” (Kilbourne, 1999).

Most young girls are given Barbie dolls to play with, usually accompanied by a Barbie mansion, Ken doll, and sports car. Bridget, Holly, and Kendra represent real life Barbie dolls from their appearance to the man, the mansion, and the cars. Girls see this portrayal of a real life dream world through the media and “spend enormous amounts of time and energy attempting to achieve something that is not only trivial but also completely unattainable”(Kilbourne, 1999).

Part 2 Analysis of "The Girls Next Door"

“The Girls Next Door” also creates very powerful concepts of masculinity and reveals apparent double standards in relationships between men and women. Hef is an eighty year old man worth billions of dollars and holds a prominent position in the mass media. Hef is praised for his success as the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy as well as being the ultimate womanizer. If a woman founded a magazine displaying nude pictures of men and went on to live in a mansion with three boyfriends at her request, would she be treated with the same respect and admiration as Hef? I don’t think so. If a woman was to do what Hef does she would be classified as a whore in today’s society and would be looked down upon by women instead of praised the way Hef is by men. Hef who wears a velvet and silk bathrobe everyday, living in a mansion with servants to do his work and three women at his beck and call represents ideal masculinity.

In one of the episodes, his workers are seen packing his clothes for him prior to boarding a private jet, preparing his meals, and making sure every detail is perfect for their boss. Hef’s girlfriends however are shown packing their own small suitcases and loading them into the trunk themselves. The girls have their own bedrooms (except Holly who shares one with Hef) and show minimal affection towards Hef with the exception of a small peck on the lips every now and then. There is no apparent chemistry between Hef and any of the girls except a noticeable one way adoration of Hef from Holly. This proves that Hef’s girlfriends are merely disposable objects of pleasure for him.

Hef has had numerous previous girlfriends who come and go with his request. As the busty blondes grow older Hef simply replaces them with younger and more naive women and his empire continues to build. Do these girls honestly believe they will be taken seriously in the real world when they don’t want to be an eighty year old man’s sex object anymore? Hef’s secretary however who is probably in her seventies has been working for him for years. She is elderly and in no way resembles Hef’s idealistic female, proving she is not a disposable object of sexuality to him but a woman who he respects which is why she is still part of his life.

There is an apparent approach of situational sexuality displayed in “The Girls Next Door” as Holly, Bridget, and Kendra alter their personalities according to the circumstances. When the girls are shown alone they’re focused on their personal activities and interests but when they’re with Hef or in a party atmosphere the focus changes to nudity and overtly sexual displays. One of the episodes focuses on Hef’s birthday party where naked, painted women walk around, everyone’s drinking, the girls are wearing close to nothing and the men are enjoying all of it.

Bridget’s mother and stepfather visit the afternoon before the party and Bridget doesn’t eat lunch with them because she wants to look skinny for the striptease she’s doing for Hef. You would think her parents would want her to eat and especially not want her to do a striptease but in actuality they tease her about how delicious the food is that she can’t eat and watch her strip! How can’t her parents feel uncomfortable about seeing their daughter in a g-string and pasties knowing that the provocative performance is for an eighty year old man?

“The Girls Next Door” represents very normative views of beauty and the importance of success and wealth in today’s culture. Hegemonic definitions of femininity and masculinity and the portrayal of sex and gender are apparent in just one episode of this derogatory series.

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, The More You Add". Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class In Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.